What I Need From You

What I Need From You

“If I’m not appreciated, that’s your problem that you don’t appreciate me. Unless I need your love, then it’s my problem. So my needs are what are giving you the power over me.”             –Ram Dass

Ram Dass describes the willingness to accept responsibility for our needs as a “heavy curriculum.” I’ve been wanting to write about this “heavy curriculum” item lately but didn’t have an entry point. Coming across this teaching by Ram Dass was a lucky moment, because I can see myself  recently turning to my husband or a co-worker (in speech or in thought) and saying, “You don’t appreciate me. You need to work on that.” This has happened. It really has.

It hurts to feel un-seen or un-appreciated, and Ram Dass isn’t trying to minimize that hurt; he’s just showing the hurt from a different perspective, one that can be worked with, since ultimately we can’t control how other people feel about us (or anything else), no matter how hard we might try.

I’ve tried. And I still try. I still fall into that hole a lot. In fact, this past week at work I spent a couple of days inside that hole, wishing that people at work would act the way I wanted them to. I knew I was in that hole. I’d look up at the sky–literally from my office, I’d look out at the sky, the trees, the snow–trying to get some perspective, but something about that hole was so familiar that I kept going back to it until I finally lost my temper with a co-worker (and friend).

At first I was really disappointed with myself for this, but then I felt a window open. By losing my temper I had outed myself. Now I wasn’t the only person who knew I was struggling, and now what would I do? Would I continue to blame this person for how I was feeling, which I knew was a sham? Would I shame myself for being a terrible mindfulness practitioner? Would I avoid my co-worker and let this get even more convoluted inter-personally?

That afternoon I went to him and apologized for interrupting him the way I had. At the very least I had hoped he would allow me to do that, and he did. Then he invited me to sit down, and he tried to take the blame for what I’d done. He’s a thoughtful person and doesn’t like to see other people suffer; he felt bad that I felt bad.

Apologizing had been pretty easy, but what came next was not. My co-worker patiently watched and waited as I squirmed in my chair looking for the right words and the courage to say what I wanted to say.

I didn’t let him take the blame. Instead, I outed myself a little more and admitted that it was me–that something was going on in me that I’d lost control of, that I wasn’t handling well. It was a risk for me. He understood this, and he knew then that something deeper had been happening, something hidden, which is never good, and he was curious about it.

I told him more. He tried to take the blame again, and again I didn’t let him. He may not have fully understood why I couldn’t let him do this, but he was graceful about it, and for this I will always be grateful.

It can be tempting to read Ram Dass’s words and try to create some behavioral or mental formula for how to take responsibility for our needs: If x happens, I will do y, and this will mean I am on the right track. But aside from trying to remain present and receptive to what is arising, I haven’t found a formula for translating wisdom into action. I think the heavy curriculum items require a willingness to experiment and to practice, and I’m grateful that each moment offers an opportunity to do this. How we take responsibility for our needs and feelings will take infinite forms in our interactions with ourselves and others, and I am very grateful to my co-worker for letting me practice with him. I hope with all my heart that we both left that exchange the better for it. I know I did.